Meeting with Legislators
It is the perfect time to start a working relationship with legislators, whether new or veterans, by conversing about priorities and plans. Knowing their priorities helps in approaching legislators on issues, finding out how we can help with some legislation or where we need to do a little more education.
Tips for Meeting with a Legislator
All advocacy begins with relationships and education. Local Leagues keep asking for more on how to advocate in a meaningful way. On any level, it is a matter of building credible relationships. At a state level, it is also about speaking with one voice.
The Local League is very important in an overall strategy for advocacy at a state level. Legislators want to hear from their own constituents, and not just when they want specific action on legislation.
We are at the start of a new General Assembly. It is the perfect time to start a working relationship with legislators, whether new or veterans, by conversing about priorities and plans. Knowing their priorities helps in approaching legislators on issues, finding out how we can help with some legislation or where we need to do a little more education.
1. Making the appointment:
You will get more time if you treat this as a regular League meeting to which you are inviting your legislator.
Email with a follow-up phone call to make arrangements for Zoom meeting.
If you do not hear back in 24-48 hours, call again.
The ask: With the start of a new General Assembly, it is important to learn more about the people who represent us in Columbus. Our League would like to hear about your priorities. We would also like to dialogue about some issues that are important for us. This is just a getting to know you better meeting.
2. Once you have an appointment:
Decide on type of meeting: open to small group who will then be ready to follow through or a more general meeting. Don’t be afraid to just hand pick a small group based on interests of your League.
Decide who introduces the meeting with a review of its purpose.
Make sure group understands ahead of time that this is an informational meeting, not a confrontation or debate. You are trying to establish a relationship through civil dialogue.
Do some research ahead of time: family, issues of interest, something they have sponsored in the community… Show that you value them personally.
Decide on who will ask what questions. Set an agenda with time limits for each topic and stick to it.
You might practice how to make it more of a conversation on each issue.
Make sure you are familiar with the most important of our positions.
Know who is taking notes.
3. The meeting:
Start with a thank you for agreeing to meet.
Relate to the legislator in some way: comment on something they have done or ask about their children or an issue that you know is of interest.
Start by asking what committees they will be serving on if you don’t know yet. Or you can comment on the importance of some leadership position that they hold.
First questions should be about their priorities! If some of their priorities correspond with League positions, you can start a dialogue. If asked about where League stands on something, if you don’t know or are not sure, don’t be afraid to say you will get back with an answer.
Based on the points shared, talk about how that matches or doesn’t match League positions and/or priorities.
Take some time to make sure you discuss the priorities of League. (Please note that while these items are generally listed by priority for the League, you will only have time to discuss one or two of them and priorities to be discussed may differ based on a number of factor including your local League and the current political climate.
Increasing voter accessibility, security, and accuracy.
Transparency in government
Money in politics
Education finance/Fair Funding
Thank the Senator or Representative for taking time for this important discussion.
4. After the meeting,
Send a thank you note.
Follow up with any materials you deem important.
Tips for Writing to Legislators
Use personal or organizational stationery if mailing or use the legislator’s contact form for timely opinions. The contact form is designed to remind you of essentials: complete contact information that shows that you are a constituent and the topic of your letter.
If you are establishing a relationship on the issue by writing regularly, do use the mail. Knowledgeable constituents and regular donors who regularly weigh in on issues have their letters directly put in legislators’ hands. Other letters are read by aides and logged as to support or opposition.
Use Proper Salutation. The salutation should be "Dear Representative Smith" or Dear Senator Smith" depending on the office held. The address should read: Honorable Jim Smith, Address, City, State, Zip.
Be polite and informative. Begin the letter with a short paragraph that describes the issue and the request you are making. An example of a standard opening sentence is: "I am writing about HB 1234, the Automatic Voter Registration Act, currently before the legislature. I encourage you to support this legislation as written ...." or “I am writing about SB123, legislation which would eliminate peace officer training for armed school personnel. Please oppose this legislation on the grounds that …”
Focus on Key Points. Don't make the communication too wordy. Try to use common terms and language. Don’t use specialized jargon. A one-page letter is ideal, but two pages are acceptable.
Stay on message! Avoid discussing tangential issues that will dilute or confuse that message.
If you have background or are trained in a related field, use that information with your title. Expert information does make a difference.
If you have a personal story related to the issue, tell your story. Legislators cannot know everything that is happening. If everyone with a personal story would tell the story, legislators would have a better picture of the impact of legislation on their constituents.
Personal, original letters have greater impact then form letters. There is a role for both. Form letters do help with immediate needs to show support or opposition to specific legislation.
Hint for mail campaigns: Use postcards that are easily read and catalogued as to support or opposition. Use heavier stock since in really large campaigns mail is weighed rather than counted.
In Closing. Simply recap the main points and encourage specific action. Don't be vague. Requests should be clear, concise and as specific as possible, such as to co-sponsor a bill. If you have background on the issue, offer to speak with the legislator by providing a telephone number where you can be reached. If contacted by the policy maker or a staff member, be sure to make the time to talk or visit with that person.